Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta Feb. 4 called for European nations to match the United States’ vote of confidence in the transatlantic partnership, through investment in common defense and commitment to a long-term solution in Afghanistan.
Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke before some 10 heads of state and 40 foreign or defense ministers attending the 48th Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, Germany.
Panetta challenged his European counterparts to match the U.S. in maintaining military capability in the face of budget constraints.
“Like most nations on this continent, America faces a fiscal crisis,” he noted.
America’s congressionally mandated $487 billion cut in defense spending over the next decade prompted a strategy that will result in a smaller but increasingly capable force, intent on emerging challenges in the cyber and space domains and focused on Asia and the Middle East, with a robust global presence and response capability, the secretary said.
Panetta emphasized NATO is one of the central alliances underpinning the U.S. strategy.
“I believe that today’s strategic and fiscal realities offer NATO the opportunity to build the alliance we need for the 21st century … the core of an expanding network of partnerships across the globe,” the secretary said.
The United States offers concrete proof of its commitment to Europe and NATO, Panetta said. As part of the phased approach to European missile defense, he said, the U.S. will station missiles in Romania and Poland; deploy four cruisers to Rota, Spain, capable of shooting down ballistic missiles; and contribute major funding for the Alliance Ground Surveillance system – consisting of five Global Hawk intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-based control equipment – agreed to this week during NATO defense ministers meetings.
The United States will also identify a brigade to serve as the nation’s land force contribution to the NATO response force, the secretary said.
“The NRF was designed to be an agile, rapidly deployable, multinational force that can respond to crises when and where necessary,” Panetta noted. “The United States has endorsed the NRF but has not made a tangible contribution due to the demands of the wars – until now.”
A U.S. Army battalion will rotate twice a year to Europe for training, Panetta said, while two Army heavy brigades will be removed from European basing. Still, the U.S. Army presence in Europe will remain the largest anywhere in the world outside the United States, he added.
Army forces in Europe will decrease from roughly 47,000 soldiers to 37,000, defense officials said, with a total U.S. assigned troop strength in Europe of around 80,000, including Air Force, Navy and Marine troops.
Panetta said the United States would like to see European nations invest similarly in NATO’s current and future capabilities.
He cautioned against too-deep cuts under NATO’s “smart defense” initiative, aimed at combining nations’ military resources.
“Approaches like ‘smart defense’ help us spend together sensibly – but they cannot be an excuse to cut budgets further,” the secretary said.
As the Chicago NATO summit in May approaches, he added, smart defense “should be part of a longer-term plan to invest in a NATO force for 2020 that is fully trained and equipped to respond to any threat and defend our common interests.”
The 50 nations contributing troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force must maintain their mutual commitment to long-term success in Afghanistan, to the end of security transition and beyond, Panetta said.
The international community must provide enough financial support to sustain Afghan army and police forces, he said.
Panetta said even as ISAF nations work to reduce the costs of Afghan forces over time, “we cannot shortchange our commitment.”
The NATO alliance has proven its 21st-century relevance over a decade of war, the secretary said.
Panetta quoted President John F. Kennedy’s remarks at the first Munich conference in 1962, highlighting Kennedy’s vision that one day the United States could partner with a revitalized Europe, “on a basis of full equality in all the great and burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations.”
That vision is “closer than ever” to realization, the secretary said, but emphasized NATO must remain prepared, as the United States has committed to remaining prepared, to deal with global threats as they occur.